Second Lieutenant Charles J. Hanger
Oklahoma Highway Patrol
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund has announced the selection of Second Lieutenant Charles J. Hanger as the October 2001 Officer of the Month. Lieutenant Hanger is with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, assigned to the Special Operations/Assigned Criminal Interdiction Unit.
Wednesday, April 19th, 1995 began as a peaceful Midwestern Spring day, however, that peace was shattered at 9:02 a.m. when a bomb detonated outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. A total of 168 innocent lives were lost in what had been at that time, the worst act of domestic terrorism within the United States. Seventy minutes later Timothy McVeigh's destiny collided with Trooper Hanger's passion for taking care of the small things. What began as a routine traffic stop for a missing rear license plate, quickly escalated when the driver was found to be in possession of an unregistered firearm. Unknowingly, Trooper Hanger had pulled over the worst mass-murderer in U.S. history and had just made the arrest of the century.
This native-son of Oklahoma had no early law enforcement ambitions. His dream had been to pursue an engineering degree, but after two years he left Oklahoma State University's engineering technology degree program in order to support his growing family. The Assistant Chief of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Al Newport, saw promise in the young father of two and took Charlie on frequent ride-alongs. As Charlie's father-in-law, Assistant Chief Newport knew first hand that Charlie was a good man and would be a fine trooper.
In June 1976, at the age of 23, Charlie joined the Oklahoma Highway Patrol Training Academy. He graduated twelve weeks later and for the next 19 years, Trooper Hanger pursued his passion for making Oklahoma's highways safer. "He wrote a lot of tickets, " said Perry, Oklahoma Police Chief Fred LeValley, Hanger's longtime friend. "But Charlie was fair. He treated everyone the same whether he stopped the president of the bank or the town drunk."
In 1987, Trooper Hanger earned the Outstanding DUI Enforcement award and in 1991 the Outstanding Drug Interdiction Efforts award, both from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. In addition, he was named Trooper of the Year in 1995 by the Oklahoma Highway User's Federation and was received a commendation from New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani. Trooper Hanger has been promoted twice since 1995, most recently to the rank of Second Lieutenant. First Lieutenant Jim McBride, Charlie's immediate supervisor, states "Trooper Hanger's a real team player. He is crucial to the success of the criminal interdiction unit in Oklahoma. He always pays close attention to details. He constantly looks out for and takes care of his troopers."
On that fateful day in April 1995, Trooper Hanger had been heading to Oklahoma City in response to the bombing, but had been dispatched to turn back. He was planning to take the next exit when he noticed a yellow Mercury Marquis with no rear license plate. Trooper Hanger slowed down and subsequently pulled the car over. He took cover behind the door of the police cruiser until he was sure the driver did not have anything in his hands. Trooper Hanger met the driver between their two cars.
Trooper Hanger had no reason to suspect a connection between the young man behind the wheel and the bombing in Oklahoma City. Routine questioning by this experienced highway patrol officer produced conflicting responses by the driver. The trooper's suspicions were raised when the driver looked at his bumper when told why he had been pulled over. Says Trooper Hanger: "I thought if he knew he didn't have a tag, why did he look at the back of the car like that? It just didn't seem right." Coupled with the fact that McVeigh was unable to provide proof of insurance and a bill of sale for the vehicle confirmed for the trooper that there is really no such thing as a routine traffic stop.
Trooper Hanger noticed a bulge in McVeigh's windbreaker jacket and rightly assumed it was a weapon. He told McVeigh to use both hands and very slowly unzip the jacket. McVeigh calmly followed the instructions and volunteered the fact that he had a weapon. Following official procedures, Trooper Hanger arrested McVeigh for five misdemeanors and took him into custody. McVeigh was awaiting arraignment when the Federal Bureau of Investigation connected him to the bombing.
Charlie Hanger lives by a simple philosophy: "Take care of the small things, the big things will come to you." Those words were prophetic to this law enforcement officer. The arrest, conviction and subsequent execution of the individual responsible for the worst domestic terrorist act in the United States by one of its own citizens, was a direct result of this officer's attention to the smallest of details. Lieutenant Charlie Hanger is convinced "…the system of justice works" when referring to the American judicial process.
"What I did was not heroic," Hanger said. This divorced father of two grown daughters states, "I was thankful the good Lord looked after me and kept me safe. I just was doing my job the way thousands of other troopers around the country do their jobs every day. I will say that on that day the good Lord put me in the right place at the right time and He took care of me while I was there."